Performance Art for Learning in the Worlds of Medicine and Healthcare


I am a zebra. That is, a zebra in the sense of the medical aphorism:

       If you hear hoof beats, it’s a horse, not a zebra

I am Ingrid Masterton.
By profession, a physical therapist.
By a lifetime of experience,  a ‘professional’ patient.
I have been a researching graduate student and a teacher within my field.
I am a daughter, a sibling, a wife, a mother, and a member of a faith community as well as a myriad of other cultural communities. 

​While all people rightfully claim, and are bestowed with, multiple identities; the intersection of my particular identities provides me with a remarkably unique perspective on medical and healthcare practice.

It is with that perspective, which I believe I can uniquely speak to that community. From living in this liminal space, I have gained a certain moral authority, which allows me to view the world of medicine and healthcare simultaneously…

as a patient, consumer, practitioner, collaborator/colleague, researcher, teacher, parent,caregiver.

I became a ‘patient’ , “one who suffers” , when I was at one of the most emotionally vulnerable times in the life of a modern human – as an adolescent. That illness, combined with all its long term health sequelae, has taught me to embrace vulnerability with a tenacity that eludes many people, especially medical and health professionals.

I completed my coursework for a PhD in Disability Studies, but my health precluded completion of my prelim and dissertation work. I redirected myself toward discerning a mechanism to share the wisdom that my education in the 'school of hard knocks' has provided me. My affinity for 'telling' my story drew me toward the stage. The underlying inclination of Second City Training Center (SCTC), to 'speak truth to power' using humor, spoke to me. I took classes  at SCTC and have worked with a coach and director from Second City to create a one person show: 

"I AM A ZEBRA: A Curiously Entertaining Story of Illness"  

which I have tailored to perform for a variety of audiences.

Within the process of creating this performance piece, it became clear how powerful it is to 'perform' one's stories. Writing the piece, like any writing, creates an opportunity for the author to craft the story with perhaps far more coherence and meaning than the reality ever was; and demands that the author take ownership of their own understandings and actions while at the same time garnering the perspectives of the other characters in the author's story. In the performance, it becomes clear that oneself is, in fact, a character in other people's stories and learning ensues.

The 'stage' provides an imaginary space which allows for a wide range of physicality - of moving, speakingexaggeration of facial expressions, such that the writing and past experiences become a new kind of real. And, the outcomes - self-effacement, forgiveness, resolution - the learning - become so much deeper.

Having taught in various contexts within medicine and health professional education, I considered how performance art might be a tool for learning to ultimately support better understandings and collaboration across the many players within the worlds of medicine and healthcare. Role playing or live, 'real' patient interviews and simulation with actors are effectively used within medical and health professional education. But only performance art allows the 'characters' - THE LEARNERS - in their own real stories, the imaginary space to move into and out of the various levels of the social power gradients of the worlds of medicine and healthcare. That includes not only doctor/patient, but student/teacher, clinical pupil/mentor, physician/allied health professionals, administrator/service provider, policy maker/provider, payor/patient, patient/family etc.  

In an effort to explore the power of performance art for learning in the worlds of medicine and healthcare, I have created this emerging enterprise:


My intent is to continue to sculpt learning experiences, in the form of stories crafted into performance art - as often as not with a good dose of humor- specifically designed for each of any given varied group of learners: 

  • students of the medical and health professions
  • long time practitioners in those professions
  • administrators and policy makers in healthcare
  • consumers of the services of those professions
  • people with health challenges of all types
  • people with disabilities who are inadvertently lumped into having an identity of 'sick'
  • academics from any number of fields who study such groups

In 2020, I partnered with                           , as coach, director, producer, teacher and facilitator, in an expanded 'ZEBRA Project'. The pandemic provided ample opportunity for research into how some sociologists use dramaturgy to understand human sociological behavior - how we perform as a matter of course; as Erving Goffman puts it in the title of his book "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life". At the same time, I studied how the many elements of staging theater can be used to explore our understandings of ourselves far more deeply than we are able to readily do without these techniques; in particular using techniques of what Moises Kaufman and associates have come to call 'devising theater'. 

To that end, with Jessica's coaching and directing, I have created a new satirical piece, which, rather than my own story, provides a space for many people's stories and perspectives within the worlds of medicine and healthcare:

"AMERICAN HEALTHCARE: The Greatest Sh#tshow on Earth"

"AMERICAN HEALTHCARE" sold out two shows at Second City's DeMaat Theater and had close to sell outs for the other two shows, with reviews including:

"So many clever lines.

You did a brilliant job challenging the audience to see the complexities

and have compassion for all the 'stakeholders'."

IAMAZEBRA is working towards the development of a youtube channel which will feature series of satirical sketches that will resonate with all stakeholders within medicine and healthcare, with the intent of prompting and supporting difficult conversations about the many important topics in these worlds that need to be discussed amongst all these stakeholders.

Jessica and I, with consultation of Deana Herrmann PhD PT, will also be holding workshops, using improvisation, performance, writing and devising theater, with various groups to help patients, providers, students, teachers, administrators, payers, legislators and the many others involved in healthcare in various ways, to learn to better collaborate in life decision making that is done within the worlds of medicine and health care.